It was a rite of entering manhood when we got old enough to tend the blower on the threshing machine. The machine was usually set with the feeder into the wind for cleaner threshing. It was fairly clean on both sides of the separator, except standing on the platform to swing the blower left, right, raise or lower the hood or extend the blower out as the man stacking straw would indicate.
The flat blower drive belt was slapping right near your feet. We never heard of shielding back then but used reasonable caution and had enough sense not to step on it. The grain rust, smut, chaff, dust, and dirt sifted down on the blower tender. Sometimes building up two or three inches deep on the platform, which we swept off with out feet from time to time. There were breaks in the chore when the feeder plugged or a belt needed re-lacing. Sometimes the elevator chain broke. Then we would go sit on the grain wagon, visiting with the smaller kids, who often rode the load to the granary and back.
When time for dinner came, someone would sweep the dust off our clothes. All exposed skin was coated think with dirt and sweat. Our eyes and mouths were all that was visible. It felt so good to slosh water on your face from the stock tank to wash off the thickest layers. Then finish the job in a wash basin set on a table or wooden bench out by the shed.
The threshing crew would make remarks about who worked the hardest, judging by the depth of dirt on our faces. It was two times rewarding, acceptance into manhood, and the five or ten cents an hour the job paid! Of course, you had to wait until settle-up tie to get your money.
The threshing machine was owned jointly by all the farmers in the run. They then hired someone with a tractor for power. Everything was paid according to running machine time, which the separator man kept to the minute each time it stopped or started. The farmers paid each other about 50 cents an hour for differences in the time it took to thresh at each place. A team and rack got more than a spike pitcher in the field.
Carrying the sacks of grain up to the granary’s second floor was a pretty heavy chore but no one complained, for hauling was the best job to be had because of all the rest we got between the wagon loads of sacked grain.
In our run, the noon meal was served sit down in the house. Pie always followed dinner, with almost any kind you wanted. Gooseberry was not found too often but it was exceeding scrumptious. Apple, peach, or cherry were the standbys. Canned pumpkin with real whipped cream was offered at some places, mincemeat, raspberry too, was found if the girls had time to pick them. Once in blueberry sometimes stained our chins. They did not serve a tiny wedge like some specialty restaurants do today, but huge pieces, and if you still had room you got a second slice if you flattered the cook, then asked.
There was a no smoking rule around the threshing machine so long cut, plug, and snuff were substitutes. A pouch of 1760 Sweet Chewing Tobacco reposed in the tool box of the threshing rig. When it was gone, another pack appeared. To show we were ready to do grown-up stuff, we also learned to chew and spit. We drank a lot of water too, to chase the burning from our throats caused by inadvertently swallowing some tobacco juice. Our thresh run also allowed that no drinking should be done around machinery. So there was never any booze or beer when we threshed.
All the farmers in our run were dairymen, we never threshed very late. The ladies brought out sandwiches and coffee about 4 p.m. to tide them over so the men could go home and milk before having supper.
Each year it seemed there was at least one spooky team that someone would have to hold while the driver pitched off his load into the feeder. A couple of days like that and the horses got so used to it they tended to want to sniff the speeding belts.
Each year also brought some incidents where loads of bundles slid off or were lost in tip overs. Then there were broken reaches when the inexperienced crossed a ditch at an angle. It was not unusual for the tractor to get stuck pulling the thresher through a silted-in barnyard. One time I remember well, the Oliver 66 lost it’s footing so the grain hauling team was then hitched ahead of it. When everything was ready, they said, “Giddyap” to the team. The tractor driver let out the clutch and promptly killed the engine. The horses just squatted closer to the ground, their belly’s almost touching. Their fulltime eight-leg drive pulled the whole load into the right position, right through the mud. For a while, two wheels on the thresher did not turn but pushed a pile of mud and manure before them. These horse-pulling feats have convinced me two horses can sometimes exert 50 to 60 horse power apiece when called on to do so!
Those blower-tending days bring back glorious memories of work, dirt, and a paying job at nine or ten years of age.
During the 1930s, Dad often planted 3 or 4 acres of winter wheat which we would put through the fanning mill to clean. Then grind it for graham flour in the old burr mill. We sometimes put it through several times to get the desired fineness. Then Mom would sift it again before she made another eight-loaf batch of bread. Some of the neighbors and relatives would come with white sacks or empty cereal containers and take home some home-ground flour.
The chickens got a small pail of the wheat each day too. It was also a treat to chew the wheat until it turned into a nut-like, tasty gum. I recall taking a Bull Durham sack of it to school and treating all the kids. I guess today you would call it cool!